Friday, December 30, 2011

The Organization

The Organization is a pretty secretive secret organization in The Known World. Not much is really known about them. A few governments like Kusseth and The Old Empire know of them and are aware of their various interests, but the common humanoid of The Known World has no idea they even exist. The group is led by Savage Doc Managan, which is why Kusseth is the most knowledgeable about the Organization. In his early life, Managan was an adventurer and naturalist that made his fame exploring The Beast Lands and learning about the tribes of Uncout and Abraxens living there, he is also the foremost civilized expert on the great beasts of The Beast Lands. In his later life he joined Kusseth as one of the elite Brasscoats and worked extensively with Reginald E.C. Walthuler and the now deceased firstborn son of Volung, Melenthelher.

Managan makes his base of operations deep in The Beast Lands, using the natural flora and fauna and the primitive tribes of the area as his first line of defense, not that anyone really knows where his base is. From his base, the fingers of his organization extend across the face of The Known World via couriers and light zeppelins. Though he himself is a sorcerer of sorts, Managan makes extensive use of psychically gifted individuals to convey his orders and missions to the necessary parties. He also has no problem using mercenaries or hiring gangs through intermediaries to enact his will.

What is the core goal of the Organization? To know that, we must first know Managan. Originally, like Walthuler, he was a fanatically loyal patriot of Kusseth, believing that that country's industrialization and expansionist nature was bringing light to the uncivilized and superstitious portions of The Known World. Like many patriots of Kusseth, he became disillusioned by the bureaucracy and money grubbing nature of the country. Not a particularly unique story by any means, but it is his. He left the Brasscoats with a certain amount of bad blood and burned bridges and became something of a roving mercenary statesman, doing odd jobs and such for other countries across The Known World.

This wandering gave him a bad taste for all forms of government in The Known World. He didn't become an anarchist per se, but he found that Kusseth was merely one example of the problems with most large governments. Managan kind of came to the realization that governments were responsible for all the ills of The Known World. The New Empire's national pogrom against sorcery and "mutants" led to thousands of violent and senseless deaths, along with the prison camps that were the seed of Kusseth's beginnings. The hedonistic Silver King of Vyanthnem led to his people pillaging and slaying out of boredom against The Wild Lands and The Beast Lands. The national slavery instituted by The Fell Peaks led to the destruction of an entire culture that had existed longer than most nations in The Known World. Managan decided that governments were too powerful, had too much influence on the world at large. He realized that someone must oppose them, because most in The Known World were to weak or self-absorbed to do so themselves.

This is the guiding principle of the Organization. They are basically a continent spanning terrorist organization dedicated to weakening all nations. They are dedicated to keeping The Known World stable and as is. If one country gains an upper hand, the Organization is there to knock them down a peg or enable their enemies. The Organization has no standing army, though many of their couriers and psychics are skilled in a variety of deadly arts. They work through subterfuge and blackmail. Applying leverage where they can in the smallest amount they can to enact the change that Managan seeks. 

The core of the Organization is made up of members similar in mindset to Managan himself. Former patriots of whatever country that have found their work left a bad taste in their mouths. A good chunk of these individuals are veteran warriors and mercenaries that have seen the devastation left in the wake of an arrogant country's patriotic goals for expansion. At the lower levels, loyalty to the cause is not necessary, merely loyalty to the plentiful coin that Managan provides his agents. Managan's resources are extensive, as he is extremely long lived for an Uncout. He originally served in the Brasscoats around the time of 8900 DK, making him over one thousand years old. His long life span is believed to be a result of his potent sorceries.

So what has the Organization actually done for The Known World? To be honest, no one really knows. What they do is done with a many pronged approached. A dozen or more separate objectives scattered throughout the couriers that when performed successfully end up bringing about Managan's goals. Managan has no dossier on all his missions, no paperwork or catalog listing his achievements. He dispatches missions and watches his web twitch like a spider. Managan's plans are played for the long game and he will ignore quick and easy goals to ensure the long game continues unhindered. He is not rash, he is not unreliable, he is completely in control of the Organization and is willing to do anything to maintain that control and keep his plots in motion. He has purged the Organization several times to ensure that it does not become corrupt or stray too far from its narrow set of goals. 

Monday, December 26, 2011

That Old Familiar Feeling

Burnout is the curse of every DM, especially a nutty one that puts as much work into his world as I do. Lately I have been feeling that sensation of weariness with my campaign a lot. About the time my ex-wife asked for a divorce I started to really feel the crunch of it. I don't know if it was depression or apathy or what, but I just began to feel tired of Hekinoe, or at least this campaign. 

As I said in a previous post, this campaign was helped along a lot by talking to my ex-wife about it, and I am sure that that alone has a lot to do with my weariness regarding the game. Another aspect of it is that this is the longest campaign I think this group has ever had, I mean the first part was the first campaign this group has ever actually finished, even if it was only fourteen or fifteen scenarios long, and then we kind of over zealously moved into this second part of it.  Which I blame entirely on myself. I was really psyched about it and wanted to get started with it and never once paused my work on it to kind of recoup. 

On top of that, Eric guessed pretty much immediately that the group was a collection of clones or had been cloned or something along those lines and everyone spent a lot of time telling him how stupid that was or that I was a better GM than one that would use a plot like that. In the most recent scenario, the group found out they were in fact clones of The Robust Five, which is awkward. It is awkward because I have been listening to them inadvertently tell me how stupid my plot was for a while, heh. I'm not the type of GM to try pretending I made something different than I did halfway through though, so I ignored the unknowing mockery and continued with the clone plot, because I like it. Also, I may or may not have based some aspects of this campaign on the six Star Wars films. Hehe. What can I say? I'm a hack.

I just feel run down and exhausted about this campaign. I'm tired, and my heart is only half in it and I don't know what to do. We've come so far that I feel like ending things would be a slap in the face to the guys that have persevered and I feel like just suddenly ending a campaign would leave a sour taste in the mouths of Lance and Laura, and Laura is really still kind of a first time gamer and it would be the second campaign she has participated in with this group that has fallen apart. It would also be the second time I've gamed with Lance and the campaign fell apart. 

Logically, I know I will have to give up GMing in the nearish future. The next paramedic program starts in March and I am seriously considering signing up, not that I have five grand laying around to pay for it. Being a paramedic is something I definitely want to do. Normally I tack on an eventually to that sentence, but I'm almost thirty and it might be time to admit that eventually should have come around a few years ago. Running and creating games is way too mentally labor intensive for me to go to school and work fifty hours a week and still be a responsible student. I did it while I was training for being an EMT, but that is a four month class and most of the learning is common sense applied in an emergency situation. With the paramedic program I'd have to turn the blade of my intellect to learning shit like drugs and dosages and metric conversions and analyzing cardiac rhythms and that sort of thing. A little more involved than CPR, blood pressures, and putting in a King airway. 

So what do I do? I feel like if I abstain from GMing, our DnD dies. Fred has already refused to invite me to his campaign, and Eric can only really run his intermittently, if at all due to school and work. On top of that, with the talk of the Conteog and Vacusu in the last scenario, we are starting to get into some really cool ass stuff in the Psychogenic Fugue arc. There is a three scenario arc planned for The Bottom of the World and while the second chunk is going to be more or less a dungeon crawl, the third chunk is going to be fucking nuts and resolve a big point of pain from the last campaign in a big way. 

And if I do put a pin in DnD, or outright quit, what then? Will everyone be left wondering what happened and what was going to happen? Will the blog die? No. I have promised a few individuals that if the campaign dies, full disclosure will occur. I'll lay out the whole plot for them and what led to the campaign and all that stuff. The blog would probably drop to a once a week post and become more focused on the "fiction" or whatever you want to call it of Hekinoe. I do love this world, it has been a labor of love in one form or another for many many years and I never want it to die. Plus, when I don't play DnD, I write like crazy and when I don't write, I DnD like crazy. I need that creative outlet for the stories and thoughts in my head. So I would likely continue some more focused work on The Robust Five story I am half-heartedly working on and continue posting that here, along with other random DnD thoughts and nonsense.

I am kind of the alpha male of DnD for the group, and I kind of drag everyone along into DnD with varying degrees of willingness and interest. If I stop GMing, will the group follow suit? I've said before that I would love Eric or Fred or Jeremy or someone to run something in Hekinoe that I could possibly participate in as a player and advisor to the GM, but Eric says he would never do that and Fred has his own thing going on and I think Jeremy has only vague interest in the idea of running games. I think it would just make me sad if DnD ended with a yawn, rather than a bang, for the group. 

I don't know, anyone have any thoughts on the whole topic?

Friday, December 23, 2011

Children of Volung, A Pesudo 101

The Children of Volung are one of my favorite races to be found in The Known World. My most favorite are the Soulless and Rankethlek because I have a lot of affection for them. As one of my favorite things, I pour a lot of love and affection into the amount of background I have on them. A lot of it languors in my brain, rather than on paper somewhere, but still.

I like the Children of Volung because they are so straightforward. They are by no means the cliched noble savage or unthinking brute. They just know their strengths. They know they are strong and deadly and if bloodletting is a more cost efficient solution to a problem, they go apeshit and get it done. Something about that mentality really appeals to me, it conveys intelligence but a willingness to get one's hands dirty I guess. I dunno. I fucking like these guys.

Back when I was writing the Norse Story, I created this berserk with two axes by the name of Volung. It was a fun little story set after Ragnarok had occurred with all the main characters based on DnD characters from previous campaigns. I had a lot of fun with it. Eric's old shapeshifter druid was reimagined as a son of Fenris and a skinwalker. Jeremy's old philosopher archer character Laramil was reimagined as a Svartalf blind bowman and Dan's old dwarf was reimagined as Maggot, a Dvergar born from the corpse of Ymir. Anyway, I created my own character, Volung and called Shawn's Gherret. Volung was a mad thing of only rage and hate that could barely be controlled by Gherret and they had sort of a death pact thing going. That whole thing was kind of about how Shawn and I are brothers and when I get a little goofy I rely heavily on Shawn to point it out and put a boot to my ass, with varying degrees of effectiveness. Heh. So basically the Norse Story was about me and my buddies, when the Norse Story turned into the North of Hekinoe I only kept a few things, mainly Volung, and Volung is kind of my PC, so his people are one of my favorite races in Hekinoe. So much is tied up into that story that I have a really strong affection for the end product of it.

Part of why I like them so much is because of the hardships they've faced journeying south from their homeland. They sailed from the north pole of the world basically to the southern hemisphere. Long trip. They fled a land that was literally on fire and sailed through a sea of ice till starvation and the elements weakened them unto death. Which was where they decided that they would never be wasteful in life if they survived their trials. It was a rough boat ride till they hit the northern shore of The Known World.

The Children of Volung are unwilling to let anything they possess go to waste. On the journey south across Hekinoe they learned extreme hardships and responded in kind. They learned to eat the dead, they learned nothing could ever be wasted. By the time they reached the northern edge of The Known World, they had ships with whole sails cut from the hides of their dead companions. They had larders full of salted and cured chunks of their brothers and sisters and rigging made of bone and sinew. Some of these practices relaxed when they reached a land that could actually support life, but they are still an unwasteful society to this day. They don't bury their dead, because they need room to expand. They don't waste metals and forge time on ornamentation because they are constantly building weapons and stockpiling resources. Etc, etc, etc.

I dunno, they are a really weird race, but I've always had a soft spot in my heart for them I guess. 

Monday, December 19, 2011

Still In Love

...with the so called "Old School" style.

I have a lot of DnD pdfs on my computer. I am not a pirate by nature, I would love to have physical copies of stuff like the Little Brown Books and The Tomb of Horrors, but they are just too hard to find at this point for the most part. Anyway, I like to peruse some of the older stuff from time to time, just to kind of understand where DnD came from. I have said before that I never played Basic or 1st Edition, and didn't even know about the Little Brown Books until a year or two ago, so I like to go back into the mists of time and see what was. Now that I understand previous editions and am not a 12 year old trying to muddle his way through a fairly complex system of rules derived from hand copied notes, I have a lot of respect for the older editions of the game.

This old school style of adventuring, this sort of dungeoneering focused style of adventure appeals to me. I like the idea of the players starting out weak and vulnerable and pitting themselves against the environment of the dungeon a lot more than I like the inherent durability and power level of 3.0 Edition+ first level characters. 4th Edition characters are basically tanks when compared with older editions of the game where your ability scores didn't even have an effect on anything until they hit like seventeen or eighteen. A big enemy of older edition characters is the environment itself. How do you traverse miles and miles of wilderness with only a map, compass, and whatever supplies you can manage to carry on your backs? You certainly can't afford a horse or wagon to carry what you'll need. The forest is rife with gnolls as well, and random encounters alone will tax you unto death, unless you fight smart as Hell or straight up flee. 

Now, I've not gone full bore into rose colored glasses land here. There are some definite wonky ass idiosyncrasies to some of the older editions of the game. But so what? THAC0 is a game mechanic, learn it. We survived it for years and didn't once think to come up with something better or more intuitive, it couldn't have been that bad, right?

A very large part of me really really wants to get a hold of physical copies of the AD&D books, the PHB, DMG, and Monster Manual. I have Unearthed Arcana already, and would love to grab the original Fiend Folio. I would like to actually run rules as written 1st Edition AD&D and go into the actual 1st Edition AD&D Tomb of Horrors, White Plume Mountain, Against the Giants, etc etc etc. I just think it would be fun. I don't think it is a journey we would all take part in. Eric and John like to have a certain amount of power in their DnD that I feel would be incompatible with the lower levels of AD&D.

I just really love some if the inherent themes of the old editions, the prevalence of the iconic dungeon, the likelihood of death, the need for player interaction, rather than skill interaction with the world. I think these are some very cool themes and concepts that I would like to explore. I'm sure if we ever did such a thing I would immediately institute a dozen or two of my own house rules and that sort of thing, but I would just really love to just run AD&D rules as written just once to see it. I don't think I need to go all the way back to Chainmail or the Little Brown Books, but something in me definitely wants to take a little side trip back in time to try some stuff out. Oh well, we'll see what happens. 

Saturday, December 17, 2011

A Scotch Soaked Extra For You

This is something of a more personal blog post than I think this place is accustomed to, but I feel like writing it, so I'm going to write it. That's what this site is for, any and all DnD/hobby related stuff I feel like talking about. If it is oversharing, I apologize for making any readers uncomfortable. It is also kind of about my divorce.

In the latter stages of my marriage, I began talking to Heather a lot more about DnD than nerds usually do to their significant others. She is in a large part responsible for the current campaign set in Hekinoe and helped me flesh out a good chunk of the details and plot. I was excited by this ability to share this aspect of my life with her, I felt like we were really connecting and it meant our marriage was solid and she truly accepted me for who I am. I felt like she got me and didn't just tolerate my nerdiness, but accepted it and reveled in the joy it brought to me.

Boy was I fucking wrong.

I later found out that she despised talking to me about DnD. Hated it with a passion and thought it signaled the end of our union. I learned that she barely tolerated DnD to begin with. I learned that she didn't give two shits about how much joy DnD brought me, didn't revel in my nerdiness, merely tolerated it all with silent contempt and vague irritation. I thought I was exposing the very core of me to her, she thought I was just a nerd and was shutting her out and only talking to her about the most boring and uninteresting aspects of my life.

I think the problem was that Heather, and a lot of people, just assume that I am some nutty obsessive nerd, or that I am addicted to dice rolls and world building. Don't get me wrong, this is true, but DnD is a lot more than that to me. I mean, my relationship to this game is very odd and weird and different and obsessive, but it kind of defines me as a person. Weird to say that this childish hobby of imagination and dice and monsters defines who and what I am.

When I build a world for DnD, or write a story of any kind, I build it out of me. When the players walk across The Known World they are literally and figuratively traversing the landscape of my personality. I am a part of my campaign world and it is a part of me. I built it out of the meat of my psyche. It is how I play DnD, it has always been the way I've played DnD. I don't play what I think is cool, I play a piece of me. 

When you look at Kethranmeer and D'alton, we're exploring how pleased I am by the fact that Jeremy and I are friends nowadays, rather than mere acquaintances, and how I guess I wish we were better friends. When you read about how Xein built Tesla's Boil and all of its beer stock, we're exploring my dreams and hopes of Eric achieving his dreams and hopes. When we wander through Kusseth and see the bureaucracy of it, we're experiencing my contempt for America's overblown government. When I talk about how Hekinoe has a lot of its genesis in a campaign Tony and I once planned to co-DM, you're really learning that Tony's friendship matters so much to me that the story I want to tell with this world takes a back seat to his thoughts and ideas. 

When we start talking about the Elder Races and how every nation admits there is no such thing as a creator god, we're adventuring in my beliefs about the universe and reality and aliens. When we talk of the Children of Volung and how they are so pragmatic and unwasteful that they eat their dead, you are experiencing my belief that human society is gluttonous and wasteful. When I play Aluenarelel, we are seeing the part of me that wishes he could just talk and talk and do things and not give a shit about any of the consequences. When I play someone like Laram, we're seeing the part of me that truly doesn't care about anything and just wants to watch the world burn. 

I dunno, blah blah blah. DnD is a very personal thing to me. It is a game yes, but it is a game played in my head and I probably pour a lot more into it than is healthy. Oh well, shit happens. I enjoy it. I guess that is what is most important, that I enjoy doing what I do. Still kind of bums me out that Heather didn't get it though. DnD is how I process the world around me, it is the lens through which I view reality. Christians get to tell stories of baby sacrifice, ghosts, and cannibalism and call it legit, why can't I use DnD as my means of establishing my philosophy and belief?

If you look on my Facebook info, you see my religion is Sinker and Bleaker. These are nicknames for the Doomguard and The Bleak Cabal factions of Planescape. The guiding ideals of these philosopher clubs are literally my philosophy on life. Everything that exists is in a constant state of breaking down and nothing matters. This is my philosophy on life and has been so intrinsic to my personality to the point that for many years I have wanted to get tattoos of the faction symbols somewhere on my body. DnD is how I established my personal beliefs and philosophy on life in general. DnD is the lens through which I see the universe. DnD is my religion. When I share my deeper thoughts on my campaign world with you, I am allowing you a glimpse into my personality, my philosophy, and my belief system, and fuck anyone that dares belittle that.


Friday, December 16, 2011

Psychogenic Fugue Arc 05: Coming To The Land of Ice And Snow (Where The Harsh Wind Blows)

29th of Fourthmonth, 10006 DK
The group left Steeltown in their Organization loaned zeppelin.

9th of Sixthmonth, 10006 DK
During their flight, The Robust Five discovered a southern continent with zeppelins anchored in a northern cove and saw them flying Nakmander's flag of Meroteth. The group noted the coordinates of the continent in the hopes of investigating it at some later time. 

30th of Seventhmonth, 10006 DK
The group arrived in The Bottom of the World and discovered Traith Harris waiting for them. Traith explained that several years ago, lots of Fell Humans began disappearing from Kusseth, one among them was his grandmother. He investigated his missing grandmother and discovered that Kusseth was selling its Fell Human population off to Nakmander. Traith wouldn't let matters lie and ended up getting sold to Nakmander as well. He discovered that Nakmander was cutting apart Soulless and attempting to graft their mechanical parts onto the Fell Humans sold to him in hoped of making an incredibly durable and destructive military force to use to defend Meroteth. Traith explained that A'lst discovered this and fought Nakmander and claimed the Fell Soulless and did what he could to ease their suffering and sort of adopted them into his workforce. Traith explained that little could be done for himself, as he was more metal than flesh, and what little flesh he had left was sick and mostly dead. He did not elaborate on the fate of his grandmother. Traith lead the group to A'lst's compound and watched with disinterest as they fought a snow giant that attacked from beneath the ice. After the battle the group confronted Traith on the fact that he had stood by and watched and he stated that D'alton and Xein were unreliable and it was his job to protect A'lst and his interests and he needed to know what the group was capable of if they decided to screw things up down here they way they had up north with Nakmander. 

When the group arrived at A'lst's compound, they discovered a large bunker similar to his warehouse back in Kusseth and filled with a large contigent of Rankethlek, Soulless, and Fell Soulless. They found A'lst in the center of this level of the compound on a raised platform, next to the platform talking to A'lst was a huge Soulless that stood roughly fifteen feet or more tall and had very beast-like qualities to its construction and was etched in sorcerous runes. They later learned that this was the legendary Omne-4. The group approached and A'lst greeted them and bent to the task of confirming whether or not Kethralzahn had been tampered with, while Omne-4 blatantly threatened D'alton. When A'lst finished he had determined Kethralzahn was in fact Kethralzahn and that Omne-4 was angry for the sake of anger and said that he knew D'alton and Xein were not responsible for the death of Kethranmeer. 

Omne-4 spoke with the group for a short time about some of their strange memories. He agreed that taking flesh and blood from the group would enable a powerful sorcery to exert an unimaginably powerful sorcerous hold on their actions and very thoughts. Based on some of their vague memories, he agreed that it was entirely possible that Nakmander had at one point had them under some sort of enchantment. At Xein's prodding, he also agreed that those same pieces of flesh could be used to create clones of the group, though that would not explain their memory loss, as when one clone in a series dies, the memories and actions of the previous enter into the next, though the unreliable nature of sorcery could explain the memory lapse. Xein asked Omne-4 if he could determine if they had been tampered with sorcerously and Omne-4 cast a potent divination on the group. He determined that they were who they thought they were and that they were currently not under any sort of hidden sorcerous control. He urged D'alton and Xein to inspect the interior of eachother's lower lips. The two did saw and say a marking of "1x2" on their lips as a sort of tattoo of some kind. No one had any knowledge of the significance of the mark. 

The group was invited to work with A'lst while they were in The Bottom of the World, or they could rest and relax in his compound until he could arrange their transportation back to The Known World. The group agreed that they would like to work with A'lst and asked what research he was engaged in here. A'lst explained that he desired to find a power source of some kind for Steeltown that would give their new nation an advantage against the older and more established nations of The Known World. He described huge black pyramids that lurked beneath the ice of The Bottom of the World and were guarded by black skinned cyclops. His eventual goal was to open up and investigate a pyramid because he believed that a power source of some kind was entombed within them. His first task for the group was to accompany a train that was carrying supplies to A'lst's camp at the base of a pyramid and defeat a cyclops that would waylay it. A'lst explained that the cyclops were intelligent and always blocked such trains, but no one could convince them to step out of the way. 

The group rode the train as directed and met a Vyanth warrior with no mouth. Further interaction with him showed that he had a fanged mouth on the side of his neck and they later learned his name was Aluenarelel, a warrior of Vyanthnem that served A'lst here in The Bottom of the World. As expected, the group encountered a cyclops on the way to the encampment. The cyclops stated he would not move until the White One ordered him to do so. The cyclops spoke an unknown language, but was able to convey its words in the minds of the group. The group engaged it in further conversation and discovered that the White One was the Conteog on Hekinoe and that the pyramids were traps for the Vacusu. They also learned that the Conteog were one of the creators and that the Conteog was somewhere on this world. Aluenarelel was very bored by the conversation and made several gestures to the effect of "can we hurry this up?" and eventually the group just attacked the cyclops. When the cyclops fell, Aluenarelel used a grenade given to him by the train's conductor to destroy the corpse. Aluenarelel stated that the flesh of the cyclops was poisonous. The group searched the remains and found a strange bronze amulet with bizarre depictions of a scorpion, a bat, a bird, and a lizard. Aluenarelel stated that it was a token of the cyclops' gods or some such. With nothing much left to do, they continued their train ride and arrived at a fortified encampment at the base of a black pyramid. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

We gamed. Huzzah.

We played the next Hekinoe scenario the other day, the 5th scenario in this campaign. I think it went very well and they got some interesting little tidbits about the plot and the campaign world. The scenario moved quickly and there were few hang ups. Combat and dialogue moved quickly and again, with few hangups. All in all, it was actually an incredibly smooth running scenario. Didn't extend too long either, just about three and a half hours or so.

One of the main issues seems to be that I have lost track of the little black journal they have been writing down notes in. This is a problem, and I have no clue whatsoever where it might have gotten to. Since we couldn't find the little journal we didn't draw memories for Xein or D'alton or give a memory reward at the end of the scenario. Turns out that Fred had the journal and was going to digitalize it, but didn't. Heh. Also, he didn't show up at the session due to being sick and entering a comatose state. Unfortunate, but these things happen.

I think Laura did very well for her first venture into Hekinoe, and her character is kind of badass. A Child of Volung fighter with a scythe that had her name written on the scythe, but has killed so many people with the scythe that she has lost her name. I think that is just swell. 

Not much really to say about the session, other than the fact that it went very well and very smoothly, despite Fred and John being absent. There was a big delay in getting started, everyone was running behind and no one had any idea where or what Fred was up to, but we just kind of hung out till we got started, so no real big deal there. Everyone also agreed that they would like to play Hekinoe next, rather than Fourthcore. 

Monday, November 28, 2011

Cool Down

I am going to a take a break from blogging for a week or two. I'm starting a new shift at work that is the opposite of my previous shift, so I'll be adjusting to reversing my sleep pattern, plus I have some divorce stuff that needs to be taken care of as well. I also feel like I just plain need to take a breather and recharge the ole batteries and that sort of thing. In the meantime, if anyone has some ideas for something they'd like me to post about when I get back into it, please feel free to leave a comment. Perhaps Jeremy or Eric will post something as well, as the are technically co-authors of this blog. 

Friday, November 25, 2011

Fourthcore: For Real This Time

So we finally got around to playing C1: Crucible of the Gods. This scenario is a first level introduction into Fourthcore gameplay by Save Versus Death. The premise of the adventure is that every twenty-five years the gods want to drown the world in saltwater and heroes of the generation must journey into the ziggurat and face the trials of each of the four gods to appease them and prove that civilization is worthy enough to continue. I have a metric shit ton of respect for Sersa V and his guiding principles of Fourthcore, this scenario is one of my favorite published adventures. The scenario is intelligently and expertly designed and just savagely unrelenting in its unwillingness to let you make any mistakes. 

Short version of the post: I feel like we botched it.  

Earlier in the week Fred requested that instead of playing the next Hekinoe scenario on the weekend, we play Fourthcore. I was not opposed to this, and had him ask our Facebook group what they thought. Some responded with a Hell yes, others took a pretty significant time to respond. Normally this wouldn't be a big deal, but I had no prep work done for this scenario as I was trying to focus primarily on Hekinoe. 

I feel I should point out that there may be spelling and other errors in this post, I am typing with Cathulhu on my lap and she has decided to savage my wrist because the typing is jostling her too much. I love cats. 

So, I kind of kicked everything into gear when we all agreed to play Fourthcore and spend three quarters of a day off prepping my battlemats, writing notes on the more fiddly encounter mechanics and random elements of the game, and did some printing for the card decks needed for the scenario. Over the course of the week I read the adventure about a dozen times to make sure I had it all handled. Now, this is all standard DnD prep work for scenarios. The difficulty is that I wasn't as prepared as I needed to be. I am just unused to running pre-made adventures and making your own campaign world and scenarios gives you something of an intrinsic knowledge of the scenario that really cuts down on the effort needed for prep work. So I kind of botched it there. 

Fourthcore isn't necessarily no holds barred tricky/killer DMing, it is more along the lines of a competition. The players are competing with the DM. I feel like Jeremy isn't a good fit for that style of gaming. Jeremy is great to talk to about the fiddly bits of the background of Hekinoe, but he is not a rules man. He has never really "gotten" any edition of DnD. He does enjoy 4th Edition and has a solid handle on it. But Fourthcore isn't straightforward in its interpretation of the rules of 4th Edition and does a lot of things that are advised against in the DMG. He did fine in what we did play of the scenario (I'll get to that later), but I think some of the more epic encounters would have ended up like the Tomb of Horrors where his character just kind of stood in the middle of a room doing nothing while a trap went off, not because he couldn't do anything, but just because he didn't know what to do and isn't really a critical thinker when it comes to rules in DnD (background and plot is an entirely different issue, one at which he excels). At a point like that in a normal campaign where I care about my players and their characters I would say something like "Well, you have a Perception skill, perhaps you could use that to find the trap and then use Disable Device to disable it." In Fourthcore, you don't do that. The players explore and interact with the environment with no prompting or advice or reminders from the DM, except in a few specific instances.  

The way the scenario ended up was that everyone was late and it lasted for about an hour. Which kind of blew and is what I mean about botching it. Showing up late was annoying because, you know, it is fucking annoying and Lance had stuff to do later, but we got to bullshit for a bit, so that was cool. Fourthcore is about Hellacious challenges and bloody death and unfortunately the guys did not get to experience any of that. There are four trials in the Cruicible, one for each of the gods and kind of centered on each god's schtick. Lyth is the mother of beasts so they had to answer some riddles about monsters that have existed in every edition of DnD and Asar-Seght is the god of rituals and human sacrifice, so they had to perform a golem creating ritual. The scenario is designed so that you only need three of the four divine skulls in the ziggurat, if you happen to get all four there are significant rewards for doing so. So, the guys botched the first two trials. They didn't die or get dismembered, they just failed the riddles of Lyth and the skill challenge to create and animate a golem, which meant they could not complete the scenario. So instead of glorious death and dismemberment, the scenario ended with a muffled yawn. Not how I wanted to end my first Fourthcore session. 

I feel like the failure of the Asar-Seght ritual was more on me than on the players and low skill check rolls. The presentation of the skill challenge in the pdf is very general with the idea that a lot of DMs implement skill challenges differently so they left stuff deliberately vague, aside from a few specific tweaks. I kind of left it just as vague in my implementation, so there wasn't much structure to the whole thing. So I feel like their fumbling was more on me than them. If/when we go back into the ziggurat, I think I would give the challenge more structure and use some ideas Lance grabbed from a podcast he listens to. There is something to be said for allowing the players to justify which skill they're using and why it is appropriate for the situation, I like that, but I feel like the challenge was too general and unstructured and at times they didn't have a clear understanding of what they needed to do.

Martel had a few qualms about the design of Fourthcore and I feel like I didn't adequately address them the day of the scenario. One of her curiosities was about the so called over the top rewards of Fourthcore as a reward for the overpowered challenges as these scenarios don't seem to be a series and are more designed along the lines of one shots played and played again until you win. The standard rewards for Fourthcore are far more powerful than the standard rewards for regular DnD. There was a lot of loot available in the ziggurat and it is consistently more useful than a +1 sword or wand. Additionally, some of the rewards in a Fourtcore adventure are keyed to the adventure in such a way that they have obscenely beneficial abilities in certain circumstances in the scenario. There are several objects that can be found in the ziggurat than can make certain challenges almost mundane.  

Another issue that she had was that if each generation knows that the trials are coming up, wouldn't they have trained and trained and been generally awesome at the challenges of the ziggurat? Which is a nice solid line of logic. In a normal campaign. Fourthcore does not care whether or not the background logic makes sense. There is a dragon in the ziggurat. What the Hell does it eat in the twenty-five years between adventurers showing up? Everything else in the place is undead and the dragon sits alone in its section with some trees. Fourthcore is very game centric, the world is a window dressing only there to facilitate the player being where they are doing whatever the adventure is about them doing. 

So in closing, I would like to try Fourthcore again and I hope everyone else would be into it. Anyone else have any thoughts on the whole thing?

Music: Schaffer the Darklord - The Rappist
Music: Schaffer the Darklord - Cat People
Music: Schaffer the Darklord - Nerd Lust

Incidentally, the kitten went bonkers when I put on Cat People, as it does feature a variety of feline hissing, mewing, roaring noises. I was humorous. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Alternate Rules: Leveling

I've had this idea for a while, since at least 3.0. So one of the things that has always bothered me about level advancement and such in DnD is the sudden jump in power. All of a sudden, literally from the one hour to the next, you suddenly are more durable, cast more potent spells, are stronger, faster, and hit more accurately with your weapons. Granted, that is a feature of a level progression system. GURPS flows a lot more "realistically" with a slower, steadier progression based on your actions.

One of the original ideas I had in this vein was that when you level, you can only improve stuff you used. You can't add skill points to Listen or Jump or that sort of thing unless you actually use those skills at some point during the past few scenarios. You can't pick up Dodge unless an attack misses you or Mobility unless an attack of opportunity misses you while you ramble on through a battle mat.

A later idea I had in this vein was that instead of experience points improving your level, you spend them to buy feats and skill points and spells and bonuses to saving throws and attack rolls and that sort of thing. With this system, you're more versatile and can basically make your own classes and advancement. You don't have to take levels in Wizard and Fighter to be a fighter mage, you can just focus on purchasing attack bonus, weapon proficiencies, Intelligence and Strength bonuses, some spells and that sort of thing. Unfortunately, I could not mathematically come up with a system to break down the point costs of various abilities and the potential cost for them. I tried, oh did I try, but it was a trying system to implement. Plus, most of my players don't particularly care about how leveling happens, just that it does eventually happen.

One of the things that brings this old idea to mind is playing Skyrim, or watching Tony play it. It is a pretty simple system, the more you do stuff, the better you get at it. Shoot bows and you get better at bows. When you improve a set number of skills, your level increases and you can increase health, stamina, or magicka, and you get a perk. Perks are perks, they are like feats that tweak something. For instance, an archery one allows you to zoom, and a light armor one makes it so light armor doesn't weigh anything when you have it equipped.  It is a system I've always loved, and one that kind of resembles some of the down time skill improving systems present in GURPS. 

I'm not too overly concerned with this alternate leveling system, sudden increases in power are kind of a sacred cow in DnD. It is after all a class based system and not a skill based. It was just kind of a neat idea that appealed to me and Skyrim has it on my mind. Also, Skyrim is a pretty cool game. 

Friday, November 18, 2011

Magic Items Needed! Halp!

Magic is wonky, upgrade system, blah, blah, etc.

So, the upgrade system was easy to build. Items have a limit to how much they can be enchanted, +10 is the max. Each enhancement bonus and ability has a point modifier, +1 enhancement is +1 and brilliant energy is like +4 for instance. Most of those abilities are easy to hand wave into technology, shocking and shocking burst are now alternating current and direct current batteries that can be installed onto your swords, flaming is now channels built into your blade that can be filled with oil and lit on fire by a striker in the crossguard of the weapon. Armor that conveys electricity resistance is now armor built with thick rubber lining instead of padding. Obviously, it is hard to find a fit for stuff like vorpal and brilliant energy (though I have ideas for that one), but I believe that I have the basics covered. 

Basically, what I am saying is that weapons and armor are easy. The upgrades are slightly more limited than magical enhancement, most weapons can only have 4-8 points of upgrade, rather than the 10 of magic items, but upgrades do not require craft magic item feats to use, just ranks in craft skills to build them yourself, or marks to buy them. Being able to build them yourself makes them considerably cheaper than magic items as well, while the general industrialization of Hekinoe makes them far more accessible than magic items are in a typical campaign. 

So the problem is that there is no equivalent system for wondrous items or rings and the like. Some things, like the Ring of Shocking Grasp or Gauntlets of Ogre Power (neither of which actually exist in Pathfinder) are easy. Basically a taser and steam driven locking gauntlet set up that attaches to a suit of medium or heavy armor and grants a strength bonus to one arm. Others, like the Amulet of Natural Armor or Cloak of Resistance or Bracers of Armor.

Back in the day (a 2nd Edition AD&D Wednesday), I had this pretty slick cyborg/biomod system based off of Deus Ex for a campaign we were playing that was more or less low magic. But that feels mostly ridiculous, which is not to say there aren't already some clockwork steampunk cyborgs already running around. Anyway, I just don't feel like a system of augmentations really fits with Hekinoe. Perhaps next campaign, when they're robots built by A'lst to go back in time and save Kusseth. 

One thought I've had in the past for this wondrous item issue is trying to make it like snake oil salesman style stuff. I tried it back when we were still using 4th Edition, but everyone was kind of like, whatever, and didn't seem to interested. My thought was that you buy Johnson and Steven's Ultimate Homeopathic Lifetime Supply of High Octane Ultravitamins to Energize and Revitalize Your Levels of Vim and Vigor! and gain a bonus on all your saving throws sort of in lieu of a Cloak of Resistance. The problem there is that you have a cloak spot item taken up by a daily vitamin and you get players that freak out because they can't wear a magic cloak while chowing down on their vitamins. Also, writing nonsense like the titles for all of these snake oil elixirs, salves, and so on could get exhausting. 

I guess my final thought/ruling on the matter is that stuff that is easy to convert like the Belt of Giant's Strength or the Cloak of Elvenkind, will get converted. Oddball stuff like Belt of Constitution, Crown of Blasting, and Horn of Valhalla will remain as is. If you want it, buy it and deal with the consequences of playing with sorcery. There is a reason sorcery is feared and reviled and fined extensively. 

Or you could go buy some psionic items. 

Monday, November 14, 2011

God's Eye View of Hekinoe

On the southern shore of Orcunraytrel, Fell Human and Elduman pirates unload barrels of wolf-iron weaponry while Goebleen raiders unload chests of stolen Asosan gold. The weapons are overly large for the Goebleen, for they are short, but they are pleased nonetheless by their imported weaponry that outclasses the iron and steel of the kingdom of Asosa that they prey upon.

In the vast desert of Serethnem, a thicket of black brambles grows where no water exists, enveloping a tall, horribly burned corpse. The corpse's lover looks on as the brambles glow, slaying any Sereth that would approach the dead thing and call it the reincarnation of their Briar King.

In a tower on the southwest shore of Ieanegatniv two Elduman brothers stare at the red eyed obsidian skeleton of their father, each turning their vast arts to the preservation of their land while an army of Trolls, Panthermen, and Cinder Ghosts attempts to destroy all they've sought to create.

In The New Empire, an Elduman in the black and red of the witch hunters rides across the arid plains with his warriors hunting his son. The red-eyed son, his own warriors in tow, in turn hunts the father while seeking to burn all the father has achieved to the ground.The citizens of the empire live in fear of the iron fisted discipline of the father and the madness of the son.

In The South, the Gods of the Deep Earth coil around an egg the size of a great ursine. Tendrils of smoky shadow coil around the egg. Around the Gods of the Deep Earth, Varanid warriors and shamans die in droves as they fight shadow monsters that suck the life and energy from the all those in the cavern. High above the battle, hidden and waiting, a Lacerat meditates and prepares to call upon all the powers he possesses in an attempt to save all that he has created from destruction.

Deep beneath the earth on the border of Kusseth and Whurent, an Abraxen commander takes cover behind hastily constructed barricades and lobs a grenade at the advancing Dwenoren. Watching grimly as yet another  handful of his Blackcoats falls to the guns of the stumpies. The ground thunders as a clattering, smoke belching, bipedal war machine clanks and stomps out of the darkness and unleashes a hail of gunfire against the Kusseth soldiers.

In the swamps of Fresgulen the Ethryll ride their great and ill tempered swamp beasts along a black scar cut across their lands by sorcery. The Norvenmik watch as they pass their settlements, but the Ethryll ignore their long time foes, for they seek a new foe to feed upon in the mountains. In the long derelict fortresses of the Norvenmik, the Mawkethnay note the approach of the Ethryll and chitter their excitement at the approach of worthy foes.

Deep in the ancient ruins of the unnamed Glenwighta empire, freed Solwighta and Conwighta break through the final barrier leading into a collapsed tunnel leading into one of their lost cities. Within the lost ruins they find a breeding ground of cave wights and soon the dusty black streets of city run thick with the pale blood of cave wight and Glenwighta alike.

Amid the ruins of The Isle of Crystalline Towers, a lone Elduman strides through the wastes, the gritty wind tugging at his loose fitting clothes. A shriek echoes out of the ruins around him and his head jerks in the direction of the noise. His bronze bell-mouthed rifle comes off of his shoulder and he kneels and begins firing thunderous shots out into the gritty darkness of the knife-edged wind. 

Friday, November 11, 2011

More On Sorcery 101

This post is going to be about sorcery in my campaign, buckle up. Magic is unreliable in my world, untrustworthy, and prone to mutating living flesh into pretty much anything imaginable. It runs the gamut from acidy spit to shadow powers. This is a vast departure from "normal" magic in a DnD campaign setting. I'm going to blow your mind here in a second. Buckle up more.

Magic isn't broken.

Here's the thing, Eric has wanted in the past to fix magic or modify it in a way to stabilize it in a permanent fashion that allows him to utilize magic items freely and without any of the flaws I deliberately placed in the whole system. He wants to take a campaign feature I instituted for a specific reason, and make it fit his version of DnD. Magic is the way it is for a reason, and trying to fix it would be like trying to fix oxygen in our atmosphere to make it work better or some such.

Magic is not in any way broken, it is exactly as I envisioned it performing in this world. When compared to a conventional DnD campaign, yes, it is broken, but Hekinoe is not a conventional DnD campaign. Sorcery is an external power source that humanoids can draw on for power to shape with their desires and willpower. The true source of this is not in any way shape or form known or understood, it is just sorcery to its practitioners. It can be manipulated and shaped and controlled, but never completely, thus the misfires and such. There is too much energy in sorcery for mortals to control, so they must bleed it off via incantations and complex gestures, or through training regimes designed to improve their control. Sometimes a spell has so much power that it misfires to release the excess energy or afflicts the caster with some unnatural condition related to the type of spell he cast.

So, I've written this before, but I feel the need to reiterate it. I deliberately made magic the way it is because I wanted players to shy away from sorcery of any kind, then I created various background material reasons for why magic operates the way it does. The reason for doing so is because I love psionics. For too long I have felt that psionics was kind of the red headed step child of DnD. I could list a dozen or two reasons why I feel this way, but at this point I feel it is irrelevant. Things are the way they are. 

Because of my personal beliefs I have altered the way magic works in my campaign to make psionics more appealing. Psionics, like the upgrade system, is one hundred percent reliable and safe. Regardless of the original intent of my plan to fuck over magic, I really like the way it turned out. The various misfire effects are neat and fun to create. It is a pity no one, aside from Lance, opted to play a psionic class though. They're pretty cool and I really like some of the stuff that Dreamscarred Press is doing, I mean, they're no Malhavoc Press, but they get the job done. 

Monday, November 7, 2011

1st of Ninthmonth, 9995 DK

A Note: This is not the next chapter in The Robust Five story I have been posting. This is just something I felt like writing, it follows the events of the eighth scenario of the previous campaign.

The Braun mansion was silent in the night, the air still and only the sounds of sleeping were heard in the upper portions. The day had been long and deadly, John's flesh a burned wreckage repaired by Xein's sorcery and each member of The Robust Five left sickened and nauseated by the effects of the sorcery within the catacombs of black glass beneath Meroteth. Only two remained awake in the depths of the mansion, one an unsleeping sentinel of iron and steel, the other a concerned brother.

Kethranmeer worked in the depths of the mansion in his freshly constructed forge and D'alton, pale and sickly looking from the sorcery of the evening, sat on a table cleaning his guns and knives. Kethranmeer had removed his chest piece, revealing the copper coils and sparking contacts of A'lst's lightning heart and D'alton marveled at the complexity of it. Every time Kethranmeer moved those heavy limbs of his there was a whine of electrical current and the sparking lines of electricity brightened considerably. Within his chest was the only portion of Kethranmeer that did not look worn and dented and rusty.

"Brother," said D'alton weakly and quietly, his face pained, "you look like shit."

"Kethranmeer thanks brother D'alton for his eloquent concern."

D'alton's glacial eyes glowed like the moon with reflected light from his brother's chest as he said, "Brother, dispense with Thoeleknair's mannerisms, I am too weary from battle."

Kethranmeer nodded, "Fair enough, brother. I thank you for your concern, but steel and iron endure as much as fresh forged wolf-iron when layered heavily enough. My sons have need of my flesh."

D'alton scoffed, "We have need of your flesh, death drew close to us today, brother. A dragon, never have we fought something so deadly. John lays weak and wounded above us, his face whole only because of Xein's sorcery."

Kethranmeer set aside the wolf-iron chest piece and placed a battered looking twin of it atop his anvil, this piece cold forged from crude iron. He hammered it here and there, rust flaking as he did so. The pounding grew fierce and D'alton slid from the tabletop and closed the heavy door to the forge.

"They sleep above us, brother, and they have need of it."

"Fair enough," rumbled Kethranmeer.

D'alton sagged against the wall, his limbs and body more exhausted than after a day in the mines of Beltan. He was Fell-Human in origin, but as thin blooded as Xein, despite his eyes, and the sorcerous traps of the evening had left him subdued and sickly. He only clung to consciousness out of worry for his brother.

"What do you do here, brother? Stripping away your strength piece by piece and gifting it to those mindless beasts beyond the doors."

Kethranmeer's hammer flew from his grasp and put a dent into a different wolf-iron door of the forge.

"Spineplate was a beast, mindless and full of naught but wrath and hate for all that was flesh and could feel. I am Kethranmeer now, gone is the Beast, gone is Spineplate. As A'lst before me has done, I have found the wounded and broken and would gift them with what I have achieved. I take from them all they knew, all they hold dear, I kill what they are and replace it with madness, for that crime, I sacrifice of myself in the hope that they return to sentience as I did. Of my unfeeling flesh, I build a family."

"But why, brother? What do you seek? We are brothers, we live among friends and allies."

Kethranmeer snarled, "Silent John that cares nothing for anything beyond our next battle? Mad Derf, the liar and wretched sorcerer that you all put too much faith in? Xein the businessman? These are our swordbrothers? When Nakmander tires of our services shall we all then retire to Xein's bar and become bartenders and waiters?"

The lightning heart within Kethranmeer surged with blue-white ferocity as the once-Soulless turned to face his brother.

"I seek more than that brother. The challenge of battle was once enough for me, I have ever been a stalker of battlefields and bringer of death, but I desire more than that now. I am Kethranmeer, warrior of steel flesh and steel mind. To sit in this city, protecting a bar and busting heads for a sorcerer is not how I would end my days. My flesh, even rusted as it is now, will never fail me. To die in battle, shattered and rent apart my foes is one thing, but to pass into monotony as a bouncer or die at the hands of another's foes shall not be how I end my days."

D'alton stepped forward and ineffectually shoved his brother, his limbs weak and shaking, "Then what? Who are Kethranmeer's foes? Who shall he die in battle against? Speak brother, pull yourself from the trap of your own self-enforced restraint and call me to battle as well!"

"The Fallen Empire. The Bleak Tyrant. The Black Souled Monks of the Necropolis. I name these as my foes," whispered Kethranmeer.

"Are you Nakmander, then? A freedom fighter mad enough to believe he can tear down an entire nation?"

Kethranmeer growled, and the ice blue slush of D'alton's blood stilled in his veins, for he heard the Beast in that growl.

"No, brother D'alton. I am a slave, as I have been for almost one hundred and fifty years. The Soulless are slaves to the Fallen and only because of A'lst and the betrayal by my own masters am I now free. I would grant the rest of my people freedom as well, by a kinder fate than being left for scrap in a lightless cave, as I was."

D'alton nodded, remembering his short eight years in Beltan, "What can I do to help, brother?"

"Be patient. My sons need time to return to stability, A'lst needs more time to craft lightning hearts. I will stay here, working with Nakmander until my Rankethlek mature. When they do, they will go out among Soulless and free them from the control of the Fallen that possess their minds and when the time is right, we shall forge our own race and our own nation from the chains the Fallen placed upon us."

D'alton stepped forward and gripped the iron flesh of his brother's forearms and Kethranmeer returned the gesture. When cool flesh meant forge warmed metal, tendrils of darkness spread from under D'alton's palm and wrapped around the limb of the once-Soulless. D'alton leapt away as if trying to escape his treacherous flesh.

Kethranmeer's hand and arm clanked as he shook lingering tendrils of shadow from his limb, they dripped to the floor like oil and snaked towards D'alton's shadow. 

"Your control weakens, brother."

If possible, D'alton looked more shaken than he already was, sweat sprang out on his brow and his shoulders shook, "I think the events in the catacombs have accelerated what Nakmander began when we met with him to buy our freedom."

A metallic rumble issued from within Kethranmeer, "I owe my existence to sorcery, and A'lst's methods, but it is a perilous beast to ride brother, and one I would never willingly trust again."

D'alton snorted, "Derf and Xein and my traitorous blood can attest to that, but it seems I have no choice in the matter. My blood cools more and more of late, my breath now mists even in the heat of Kusseth's unrelenting sun, my shadow falls where it should not and its skeletal fingers twitch upon the butts of its own guns."

Kethranmeer had ceased even the pretense of forging now and faced D'alton fully, "I have noticed, brother."

D'alton's gaze grew unfocused, his lips met in a grim line across his tired face.

Sensing his friend's descent into darkness and misery, Kethranmeer spoke, "D'alton, Have I told you before of Kardusa?"

D'alton shook his head, as Kethranmeer had expected, for it was a memorable story and he knew fully that he had not spoken of it before.

"When I fought and killed in the name of The Bleak Tyrant and his black throne...I was much more than I am now, and much less. Sorcerous fires burned within me, my wolf-iron flesh glowed red in the gaps between the plates of my limbs and chest, my talons were black stone carved from the deepest crypts of the Necropolis and knapped into a deadly sharpness by Fallen with sorcerous skills of the highest order. I was a cold killer, completely enslaved by the Fallen voices in my mind."

Kethranmeer paused for a moment, his body eerily still and his eyeless face aimed over and to the left of D'alton's face.

"I was unstoppable," he finally said.

D'alton's raised a brow at that, his friend was usually reserved and silent about his past, and never arrogant.

Kethranmeer went on, "Nakmander told you that once the sorcerer kings of The Fell Peaks and Meroteth rode to battle on dragons, domesticated and bred them in their warrens. This practice is more modern than he led you all to believe. There is a ruined city, far to the south near the border between The Fell Peaks and The Beast Lands, once known as Menteth, now a derelict ruin.

Kethranmeer flexed his fingers, remembering the black blade talons he no longer had.

"It was in Menteth that the Fell Humans hard first learned to breed dragons, originally they had attempted to control them with sorcerous mind powers as they had the Glenwighta, but that ability seemed only useful against the Glenwighta, and it has fallen far from what it once was. Regardless, they found that they could only control the dragons as you control an attack beast, and only when they were young. The older dragons got, the more intelligent and obstinate they grew."

Kethranmeer grew completely still, he was not a storyteller, and had no need to rest or quench a parched throat. His words droned on in his tinny voice, his body motionless and his hands at his sides.

He went on, "The eldest dragons were not stupid though. They could not speak, but they could make themselves understood, and they could understand the Fell Humans, in a fashion. The eldest brood dragon of the Menteth warrens was known as Kardusa. He was the most magnificent creature I have seen in my life. He was one hundred feet of sinuous black grace and muscular violence. His scales had long ago gone black, warped by the sorcery in Menteth and looked like palm-sized scales of obsidian that glittered like black diamonds."

"My masters in The Fallen Empire determined that Menteth had grown too strong. They knew of Kardusa, even across the continent, and they knew he was allied with The Fell Peaks. Kardusa was a willing dweller within the warrens, he was a strong and ancient dragon, and his young were strong as well, so he was allowed to breed as he desired, and he was allowed to leave the warrens whenever he wished. He was not a caged beast, but an ally to the empire. My creators determined that it would be my task to destroy Kardusa, to cripple the breeding program of Menteth."

"And how did the forty foot beast we fought this night compare to mighty Kardusa, brother?"

Kethranmeer made a metallic raspy noise, his equivalent of a snort of derision, "Its scales were changing as Kardusa's had, but the slug we fought was two hundred or more years behind Kardusa's evolution."

"My brothers and I, ten of us, the Kanthek Brotherhood, were veterans.  We strode into the warrens of Menteth as unstoppable juggernauts, with a cadre of Fallen following in our wake and neutralizing the sorcery of the Fell Humans. Despite this, and our strength, five of my brothers fell to their sorcery before we even encountered Kardusa. The sorcery of Fell Humans is unreliable, but as potent as that of their undead cousins."

"Despite his size, Kardusa was a silent shadow in the dark warrens, a glint of shine moving through the night as my fires reflected off of his scales. He destroyed my brothers...quickly. We cut and hacked and beat at him with our weapons, and he was wounded, but they fell too soon to the titanic black lizard. I pressed on alone, tearing great rents in its black scales with my own talons, and it tore off and ate my right arm."

"When it tried to swallow me whole, its fangs caught on my flesh and I tore out its eye in a welter of blood and fluid and it spat me across the cavern we fought in, dousing me in burning black sludge as he did so. He approached and attempted to rip off my left arm, but I channeled the sorcerous fires within me to the black talons of my claws and scoured his throat and face with blades of fire that sent him reeling."

"Forgive me for interrupting brother, but it seems as if he was very focused on eating you, despite your lack of meat."

Kethranmeer nodded, the first movement he had made in some time, "Sorcery changes living flesh, and Kardusa desired to consume the reliquary of the Fallen within me to fuel his continuing evolution. The six Fallen within me represented a vast store of necromantic sorcery that he hungered for. Also, I suspect that he understood that consuming the reliquary was the surest way to destroy me, just as destroying my lightning heart is now the only way to ensure I am irrevocably destroyed."

"Ah, I see."

"I am not a storyteller, brother. I will say that the battle was fierce, the place we fought was littered with scales and fragments of my broken body and scarred by the caustic spit of the dragon. By the end of it, he had taken my arm, half a leg, and most of my torso with his teeth and talons. Sorcery bound in fire leaked from every wound upon my body, but I slew him. I shattered his skull and shredded his brain with my fiery black talons."

"When my masters found my, I was dragging myself across the black floor of the warrens, my body studded with broken teeth and claws and leaking sorcerous fire. Kardusa had consumed two of the Fallen animating me. I was weak and broken. They did not congratulate me or thank me for me service, or try to aid in my recovery. I was a slave warrior and had served my purpose. They determined that it would be too costly to repair me, that binding more destroyed Fallen into my reliquary would make my personality too unstable. They left me there, shattered but not dying, for I could not die so long as the reliquary within me contained at least one Fallen. So there I sat in the darkness, bereft of my brothers with only the increasingly agitated and bitter Fallen within my mind to keep me company."

Kethranmeer grew silent for a moment, then spoke, "They were not kind to me. You remember the Beast, brother?"

D'alton nodded.

"As I am now to the Beast, so the Beast was to what A'lst found in those warrens. I only vaguely remember A'lst finding me. I can barely recollect the incandescent bolts of lightning from his black glove that he used to subdue me and the Fallen within me. I do not remember dying at his hands, I remember waking though, chained and howling at him, thrashing as he removed my black talons and replaced them with wolf-iron ones. I remember an absence in my mind and a sense of energy within my chest, rather than the infernal heat of sorcery."

"I was as an animal for a time. When I grew too violent, he punished me. When I served him loyally, he rewarded me with modifications to my body. When I could speak and understand, he taught me of the lightning heart and how he had obliterated the Fallen with beltanizine and how the electricity of the lightning heart sustained my animating sorceries now. He taught me Thoeleknair and granted me my name and taught me how to repair myself and the lightning heart. At first he was the master and I the hound, but as I returned to myself and became more than myself, he became the father and I the son."

Silence grew and D'alton filled it hesitantly, "I...I thank you for sharing that story with me, brother. I would ask a favor of you."

Kethranmeer nodded, "Do so."

D'alton's shadow shifted, its fingers twitching on its gunbelts on the floor as he spoke, "If these powers of shadow and cold that I am manifesting grow beyond my control, if I become something unnatural and murderous or mad..."

Kethranmeer hefted his maul, "As long as there is life within this metal body, as long as lightning thunders within me, that will not happen. I will end you before allowing you to become something foul and cease to be my brother."

D'alton's shoulders sagged and he sighed, "I thank you for that, brother."

Friday, November 4, 2011

Sorcerous Materials 101

This post is about magic items and the purchasing and unreliability of them. 

The Basic Rules
Magic items are made of magic, and are therefore unreliable to use and have a strong possibility of degrading over time and exploding when used. This unreliability is based on the spell(s) used in the creation of the item. Take the highest spell cast to create the item, divide its misfire chance by half (round down), that is the item’s chance to explode when used (when used counts as attacking with a weapon, being attacked while wearing armor, or when an item’s effects would be put to use, deciding what counts as using the item ultimately is the GM’s duty. Every week the item exists, you add half its initial misfire chance to its current misfire chance. Every time it is used, you roll on its misfire chance. If it does explode, it deals 1d6 fire damage per level of the spell(s) used to enchant it (multiple spells equals more damage) plus 1d6 piercing damage. Add +1 damage to the fire damage per week the item has been enchanted. The explosive blast of magic is generally small, only affecting the character and any adjacent characters, DC 15 Reflex save for half damage. Magic items are primarily made of tin to cut costs and such, so they cost half as much to create and purchase as a side effect of their unreliability and generally shoddy workmanship. Certain materials can be used to craft magic items that are more resistant to misfiring, such as wolf-iron and springsteel. These materials increase the cost of magic items though.

Example:  We have a belt or bracers or whatever of giant strength, +2 to +6 to strength. To craft this item, Bull's Strength is used, a level 2 wizard's spell, with a base misfire chance of 5%. So, every time the character uses his physical strength while wearing the item, there is a 5% chance for it to go haywire. Following the rules, every week the item exists, it adds 2% to its misfire chance. The base damage for the item when it misfires is 2d6 fire damage and 1d6 piercing damage, +1 fire damage per week it has existed. 

Sorcerously Neutral
Some materials have no effect on sorcery bound within them. This category is for items like paper, steel, iron, bronze, wood, animal hides, and so on. Just your average materials. The type of material used has little impact on the overall cost of the item, so these category follows the normal costs associated with crafting or purchasing magical items. However, since most sorcerous craftsmen use sub par materials to cut costs, this category also includes materials like tin, pewter, particle board, rawhide, and so on. These sub par materials offer the same rules as regular materials like steel or iron and such, but they cost half as much to produce. They also look like they cost half as much. Tin blades will be dented and dinged, particle board staves and wands look like particleboard. The magic in these items strengthens them physically, so tin blades and armor don't end up twisted and broken by the end of a fight against steel, but they still like like a tin sword. 

Sorcerously Fragile
Sorcerously fragile items are typically made of materials like bone, glass, clay, obsidian, and some precious metals. Materials that are typically fragile and lightweight fall into this category. This category of items follows the half cost rules of stuff like tin, however, they increase the base misfire chance of the item by 2% and add an additional 1% each week, they also decrease the piercing damage of the blast to 1d4.

Example: Using the same strength item from above, but crafting it from bone this time.  We use Bull's Strength with a base misfire chance of 7%. So, every time the character uses his physical strength while wearing the item, there is a 7% chance for it to go haywire. Following the rules for Sorcerously Fragile items, every week the item exists, it adds 4% (1/2 of base percentage misfire plus 1) to its misfire chance. The base damage for the item when it misfires is 2d6 fire damage and 1d4 piercing damage, +1 fire damage per week it has existed. 

Sorcerously Dense
Sorcerously dense materials hold spells better and longer. Items built of 100% wolf-iron, hides and leathers crafted from the great beasts of The Beast Lands, Merotethian/Necropolis obsidian, lead, and stone follow these rules. Sorcerously dense items quarter the misfire chance of the spell used to create them, rather than halving them, and they add half the base misfire chance every month of existing, rather than every week. Additionally, they increase the piercing damage from the an explosive misfire to 1d8. 

Example: Continuing with the theme of the strength enhancing item. We build a +2 wolf-iron gauntlets of giant strength. We use Bull's Strength and have a base misfire chance of 2%. So, every time the character uses his physical strength while wearing the item, there is a 2% chance for it to go haywire. Following the rules for Sorcerously dense items, every month the item exists, it adds 1% to its misfire chance. The base damage for the item when it misfires is 2d6 fire damage and 1d8 piercing damage, +1 fire damage per month it has existed. Items made of sorcerously dense materials cost 50% more to create or purchase. 

Sorcerously Inert
Sorcerously inert materials are materials that cannot be enchanted period. These items, for whatever reason are completely impervious to holding any sort of enchantment. However, this does not mean they are immune to sorcery or armoring yourself in them will keep sorcery from harming you. The following materials are sorcerously inert: beltanizine, refined beltanizine, blackstone, 

Behold, that is some sorcerous craftsman stuff.

Monday, October 31, 2011

Magic Is "Scary" and Showing vs. Telling 101

...with a side of alternate rules. 

Heads up, this is kind of going to be a meandering ride through my skull. I'm only functioning on three hours of sleep at the moment. A lot of this post is stuff I hashed out with Fred last night at like four in the morning while also watching Vampire Hunter D and imbibing copious amounts of caffeine, red vines, and also quietly talking about DnD as a method of lulling Martel to sleep. Other chunks are things that have been on my mind for some time.

Hekinoe is changing. With the intermittent work on the campaign book I find myself altering and tweaking rules that have been writ in stone for an entire campaign now. As I see how the game operates and how my players interact with the characters and NPCs, I see spots where I need to tone down or upgrade or just eliminate. One example of this is stats, currently we build stats with the twenty-five point point-buy method, called epic fantasy in the book, and we use the ability score increase system from 4th Edition. This leads to heavily overblown stats. Looking at some of the NPCs I've posted, you can see this. They have no deficiencies. Kethranmeer's twenty-two in strength is on par with an ogre or flesh golem in DnD, which is not totally unrealistic for a Soulless, as they are golems of sorts. Looking at Traith, you see he has a twenty-two in Dexterity. Traith Harris, a cop and gunslinger and fairly mundane race is more agile than creatures like wraiths, blink dogs, angels and some air elementals. Air elementals. Traith Harris is quicker and more acrobatic than creatures composed of air. What this boils down to is that it creates generally strong characters that never ever have to make any hard choices about stats and deficiencies, they don't have any deficiencies. Supermen, not Batmen. Blech.

To continue, sorcery is the main point of this post. I have spoken many times about the unreliable and flesh warping nature of sorcery in Hekinoe. It is unreliable and occasionally disastrous and generally mistrusted in the pitchfork and torches sense. I keep telling the guys that, but I don't show them. They haven't seen it. When a spell misfires, they are curious and excited. When sorcery warps their flesh, they gain a bonus. The few times that sorcery has misfired, it has been to the detriment of their enemies. Case and point, Nakmander knocked himself out in the final battle of last campaign. I don't feel like they have a healthy respect or fear of sorcery, and they should, because their characters are denizens of Hekinoe. Xein literally uses sorcerous rituals to bleed the magical energy that allows him to live out of his blood and imbue it into chemical concoctions. D'alton, with his freezing blood and shadow powers, has never been warm in all his years of life. Granted, he is resistant to cold, so it doesn't harm him per se, but he has spent his life perpetually chilled, his breath forever misting even as the sun beats down on his flesh and sweat runs from his pores. No blanket or fire can truly warm him, he is cold and can never escape that. That shit is fucking terrifying, or at the very least discomforting to think too hard about. Even as creatures only of Fell Human descent and not true scaled and tailed hell-kin, they are perpetually confronted on a daily basis with their own unnatural natures.

The nature of sorcery is spoken of, but not displayed in a way that has meaning. I have made the classic writer's mistake, I've told and not shown. The few times I have shown them the warped nature of sorcery, it hasn't hit them hard. Nakmander's spell misfired, to their benefit. Xein's healing potion misfired, but nothing drastic happened, just some damage. There are all those warped flesh feats, but how much mutation do they really show? Xein has these big fat bulbous eyes and has a bonus on Perception checks. So, foul sorcery has warped his flesh and infused it with mutant traits...that benefit him. The logic there is that the game is a game and mutations convey the mutating power of sorcery, but I can't just penalize them constantly, so the horrible mutations provide strange and bizarre bonuses. 

I feel like the players don't respect/fear sorcery enough. I feel like it is still just magic to them, just with weird colors. Fireballs are purplish and yellow and green fire with smoke that smells of rot, rather than being more typical red orange burny fire. So that conveys a flavor of sorts, but it is like a picture of the setting's flavor, it isn't actually interacting with them beyond the fancy description. Another part of the problem is the sorcery misfire chart itself. Some of the effects are simple, you or your target gain the Sickened condition. Some are a pain in the ass, you grow another tongue that makes spellcasting much more difficult till it fades. Others are devastating, like being bent and broken and transmuted into a three foot cube of iron over the course of six rounds, save negates. The majority of them though are nonsense, butterflies stream from your mouth, you grow leaves, or you grow leaves that heal you when in direct sunlight. So again, it boils down to me telling them that sorcery is dark and evil and unnatural, not showing them through the  misfires and the nature of other sorcerers.

So I guess what I need to do is truly show the grimdark nature of sorcery in this world, the misfire tables get fucking dark, permanent or lingering effects, no more funny nonsense like turning blue. So I am going to revamp the misfire tables prior to our next session. I'm going to depart from the sorcery talk for a moment, but still keep with the showing vs. telling thing, and then I'll head back around to talk more about some alternate rules and goals for sorcery in the setting.. 

Showing vs. telling in the campaign becomes more and more of a problem for me. The world is heavily industrialized, I've said that many a time. I don't think steampunk is entirely accurate, but there is definite industrialization, at least to the point that we use the Guns Everywhere firearms rule (firearms are simple weapons, not martial or exotic). I envision the world as being grubby and dirty, greasy and stained by smoke. There aren't white collar workers, aside from bankers and lawyers and such. The workforce of Kusseth is a collection of rough and tumble workers with calloused hands and busted noses and thick arms built to hoist heavy tools and heft welding torches to repair house sized analytical engines. Again, I feel like I paint the picture of industrialization well, but again, I feel it is like a picture that the guys don't interact with. Aside from a few nods to industrialization, such as plate armor being more expensive than normal because Kusseth is hot and guns somewhat make plate mail of limited use so it isn't as commonly produced, and therefore more expensive. 

What do I need to do to interactively show them that the world is industrialized, to make it real to them? (And just as an aside, this isn't necessarily me complaining about them not paying attention, it is more of a complaint about feeling like I need to be true to my vision of the setting.) I need to bite the bullet and arm gangs and thugs with pistols instead of knives and short swords, I need to make cover as important as dodging and wearing armor. I can talk about smokestacks and steam wagons and Brasscoats with lightning guns and massive steampowered armor suits, I can even shoot them with a lightning bolt from a lightning gun (which likely just felt like magic), and it doesn't seem to faze them at all. The first time one of them gets dropped by a revolver that does 4d8 on a critical hit, I think it will alter their perceptions of firearms and combat. They still fight like we are in Krynn or Faerun, no one seeks cover and just charges forward to do melee combat. Xein and D'alton stand out in the open slinging bombs and bullets waiting for melee guys to walk up to them and hit them and don't seek to take cover or flip a table to make obstacles to get at them. 

Bouncing back to sorcery. For a while I have been considering adding a component to the casting of spells that add lingering effects to the casting of spells that negatively impact the caster. For instance, when a spell misfires, I roll on a fairly simple table: spell operates normally, spell misfires, operates normally but affects the caster with a lingering effect, spell misfires and affects the caster with a lingering effect, etc, and then move on to another appropriate table of misfires, lingering effects, and so on. Now, this is a lot of tables and accounting work, but it is all accounting work on my part. The players never get to see the misfire tables, it preserves the mystery of the unreliable nature of sorcery and also keeps them from having to learn a new subsystem. Additionally, because the misfires represent a humanoid's inability to truly control the wild chaotic power of sorcery, a spellcaster could opt to willingly accept the lingering effect of a spell to bleed off some of the power of a spell and allow it to be cast without risking the randomness of what will end up being a truly excessive amount of randomness. 

To show an example of what I mean by lingering effects, each school of magic or type of spell has a type of lingering effect that affects the caster. For instance, fire spells might draw heat away from the caster's body and send him into hypothermia, electricity based spells might affect the bioelectric output of a humanoid's body, shadow spells such as darkness or shadow conjuration might dim light in the area or remove the caster's ability to see light, and transmutation spells might weaken the bonds that hold flesh and bone into their appropriate shape. These effects would be lingering, not permanent, their severity and duration dependent upon the level of the spell. 

Fred raised a point that the game is a game and some people might feel penalized by this subsystem, a fair point, an entirely reasonable point. However, I have always, from the get go, spoken of how fucked up sorcery is in Hekinoe, and no one chose to play a caster and then I just surprised them with these rules. I am merely intensifying the in game representation of sorcery's nature, and this isn't something I'm planning for the next scenario. The normal misfire table will be altered to be less "haha" and more "oh shit fuck" but the lingering effects (and other modifications to the rules that I want to implement) will be entered into the campaign book and will not be utilized until the next campaign in The Known World, should one occur and this current campaign not trail off or end due to TPKs or people having other commitments that trump gaming.

The argument could be made that this subsystem I want to use is entirely unfair, as it specifically penalizes spellcasters, but non-spellcasters and psionic characters are left untouched. A fair assessment of the situation. Fighters will always possess their muscles and agility and be able to swing their weapons, there is no misfire chance for hitting a dude with an axe or manifesting metaphysical claw. To be honest, I do not care. This is my vision or arcane casters in The Known World, if this vision is incompatible with your vision of an arcane spellcaster, it is my advice to not play an arcane spellcaster and instead play a psychic or martial style class. Additionally, even if a sorcerer goes into hypothermia induced shock or a coma due to casting meteor swarm, he was still able to cast meteor swarm, which can easily obliterate a platoon of soldiers or a small town (if not with direct damage output, at least with the after effects of explosive blasts of blame and stone). If a rogue or fighter were to attempt to do the same, it would take many many swings of his sword or axe and many many attempts to sunder the walls of a city. There is a reason it is hella expensive and time consuming to be a wizard, you get to alter the fabric of reality. Fighters can get fancy and creative and have a lot of interesting options, but meteor swarm deals four instances of 8d6 damage. 8d6 bludgeoning and 24d6 of fire, and you can direct each of the four explosive meteors to different targets and overlap their fields of explosion. That is serious output. I love the Fighter class, but even with four attacks a round and using a 2d6 greatsword with feats to appropriately complement that weapon, it is still hard to compete with the output, especially considering that it is nigh impossible to get your hands on a +5 vorpal fiery burst keen greatsword in Hekinoe. 

Anyway, that is a pile of stuff about my vision of The Known World as we move forward. As I said, the rules will be changing, should we ever start a new campaign in The Known World. Guns are going to be more present, as is right for the world, and the misfire tables are going to become nastier and scarier with less silliness and zaniness. The lingering effects will be explored and added to the campaign book. If anyone has any thoughts or opinions on these topics I would love to hear them, preferably via email or text if they are lengthy or there is heavy disagreement with my vision of the world.